Saturday , July 31 2021

Is Sabine Busse-Keller the right person for the new job?

The chief operating officer of a large bank will be the new president of the Swiss company UBS. The staff was surprised at first sight. What do bankers say about changing jobs?

Sabine Keller-Busse has achieved success in digitizing processes at UBS but has little experience at the customer front.

Sabine Keller-Busse is at the forefront of process digitization at UBS, but has little customer experience.


When a new CEO takes over the reins of the company, staff changes often occur at the management level. Against this backdrop, it is not surprising that UBS’s main bank, whose new CEO Ralph Hamers took over on November 1, announced two top management changes on Friday. From February 2021, Sabine Keller-Busse, today the Chief Operating Officer (COO) of a large bank, will be responsible for the domestic business. Former UBS Switzerland chief Axel Lehmann leaves the bank on July 31, 2021. After a transition phase, he says. The reasons for the change have not been given, it is only said that Lehmann himself decided to take such a step.

There are still open-ended questions. Of course, the movement had to be fast. Iqbal Khan, Co-President of Global Wealth Management, takes over the role of Keller-Busses as president of the Europe, Middle East and Africa (Emea) region. The bank has not yet filled a more important position, its successor as COO.

Transport or promotion?

As head of Switzerland, Lehmann did a good job, but didn’t break any big ropes like his predecessor, Martin Blessing. Bank executives may want to start here, especially as the corona crisis has hit UBS’s lending business severely recently. In an internal email to employees, Lehmann said he wanted to hand over Swiss business into new hands as a 61-year-old.

It is also not immediately obvious why Keller-Busse is relinquishing its position as de facto second place in a major bank. In this position in the engine room, UBS is responsible for a good 25,000 employees. It will now “only” be responsible for 20,600 employees. Did the new president, Hamers, elegantly send them back? Over the past few years, Keller-Busse has been mentioned many times as a potential successor to Sergio Ermotti.

The bank does not want to comment on speculation. However, bankers interviewed deny that it is a transportation issue. Even if a large bank likes to present itself as an international financial house: Swiss business is one of the pillars of UBS. The new job offers Keller-Busse an excellent opportunity to gain frontline experience for the first time in one of the most important banking areas. It’s a question of promotion, said the banker, convincing Keller-Busse with his results.

In fact, the 55-year-old was also able to score outside points in her role as chief crisis manager. Thus, UBS copes well with home offices and other digital challenges for customers and employees in the new world of Corona. This is also because Keller-Busse has modernized information technology in previous years.

“Far From Business”

Critical voices say Keller-Busse was “very far from bankers and business.” In fact, there are many bankers at the business management level and at one or two levels of management, just as the new bank boss Hamers would like: international, diverse and tech savvy. However, the upstream bankers often have a different background and face daily competition for corporate and private clients in the highly competitive Swiss market. What can a woman with little frontline experience as well as a foreign background bring here?

For the Swiss head of UBS, new growth areas and cost-effectiveness are critical. The bank must defend its current number one position on the market every day. According to respondents, to maintain and expand this position, UBS must become much more digital in all areas. Keller-Busse has extensive experience in this field.

Of course, it would be beneficial if the division was managed by a specialist with a strong customer orientation. Today, however, even the head of a Swiss retail bank mainly deals with managing internal projects and processes and dealing with regulatory and compliance issues. Keller-Busse has the best conditions in this respect as well.

Keller-Busse is extremely knowledgeable, refreshingly normal and above all, she makes decisions, you always know you’re first with her, judge those who know her. The banker who worked with her, on the other hand, stated that she was heavily influenced by the McKinsey culture, and above all “showed options on the slides.” Still, she says she’s good with people. He can also count on “great people” in the new neighborhood.

Dual German-Swiss citizenship has also long been associated with Switzerland. After completing an internship as an industrial clerk at Siemens in Munich, she studied business administration at HSG in St. Gallen, which she graduated with a dissertation. During her studies, after her father’s (premature) death, she took over the seller of his father’s electrical equipment and was thus responsible for 30 employees. In 1995 she joined a McKinsey management consultant, and from 2002 she was a partner dealing with the financial sector. After two years as Head of Private Accounts for the Zurich Region at Credit Suisse, she moved to UBS in 2010. A married mother of two daughters became Human Resources Director in 2014, a member of the Executive Committee in 2016, and a COO in 2018.

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